Tue, May 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Two bombings coordinated, says Israel

JERUSALEM The weekend saw a fresh burst of Palestinian struggle against the Israelis and two suicide bombings that occurred within just hours of one another

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND DPA , JERUSALEM AND TEL AVIV

Two Palestinian suicide bombers who killed themselves and nine other people in explosions 12 hours apart over the weekend appeared to be working in concert, Israeli officials and Palestinian said Sunday.

The bombers lived barely a block apart in Hebron, belonged to the militant Hamas movement and carried out their lethal attacks disguised as religiously observant Jews.

On Sunday, as Israelis mourned their dead, the police did not publicly link the two attacks. But in Hebron, a single mourning tent was set up for the two bombers, with coffee and candy handed out to the friends and relatives who gathered.

Fuad Qawasmeh, 21, detonated his explosives on Saturday night near the center of Hebron, killing an Israeli man and his pregnant wife. The couple were among the 450 Jewish settlers living in a city that has more than 100,000 Palestinian residents.

The blast came about two hours before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, conducted the highest-level talks between the two sides since fighting erupted in September 2000.

As in the past, the possibility of political movement was met with violence by those opposing the negotiations. Sharon proceeded with the meeting, but faced criticism from right-wing Israelis. The talks lasted past midnight and produced no breakthroughs, though it brought a pledge to hold further discussions.

But shortly before 6am Sunday, a suicide bomber struck after boarding a No. 6 bus in the French Hill neighborhood of northern Jerusalem. The Israeli police said that this bomber was also dressed like a religious Jew, with a white prayer shawl and a skull cap.

The bus bombing was the first suicide attack in Jerusalem in six months, and blasted out the windows and doors of the bus.

Ball bearings inside the bomb pierced the victims and the frame of the bus. Scorched and twisted metal dangled from the blood-stained ceiling. Several of the seven dead remained upright in their seats, with their heads tilted back, as if they were sleeping.

The police did not name the bomber, but Palestinians identified him as Bassem al-Takruri, 19, who lived in the same neighborhood as Qawasmeh.

The mourning tent that was being set up for Qawasmeh was extended to the friends and relatives of Takruri.

Less than a half-hour after the bus bombing, and only a short distance away, another bomber blew himself up, this time on the street in a Palestinian residential area on the outskirts of Jerusalem. No one else was hurt.

The timing raised suspicions of a link to the bus attack. However, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court issued an order threatening legal action against anyone who published information about the investigation.

The three suicide bombings, along with an attempted shooting attack on a West Bank settlement that Israeli troops foiled overnight, was one of the most intense bursts of Palestinian violence in recent months.

Sunday's violence also included the shooting dead of two Palestinian teenagers in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians said. The Israeli army said its forces fired on armed men in Khan Yunis in the south, and Beit Hanun in the north, but had no information on Palestinian casualties.

Also, Palestinian militiamen shot dead a fellow Palestinian suspected of working as an informer for Israel. He was killed in a central square in the West Bank city of Nablus, witnesses said.

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